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Trapped in the Closet No More

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Confession time: I love the San Antonio Spurs. I know that sort of statement borders on blasphemy in these parts, but there’s no use denying it any longer. I love the Spurs. There, I said it again. It feels good to get it off my chest.

Just to clarify: My affinity for San Antonio’s silver and black hoops squad is not to be confused with the type of love one feels toward a favorite team. I’m afraid a decade of sports journalism has devoured that part of my heart which was once capable of experiencing the utter despair and blissful euphoria associated with fandom. Instead, I find watching the Tim Duncan-era Spurs to be more like going to the Guggenheim; there’s just so much on display to savor, enjoy and appreciate.

I have to admit, I’ve never understood the popular notion that the Spurs are boring. How can any true basketball fan not enjoy the team's beautiful ball movement, or Manu’s mad forays toward the rim? What’s not to love about Tim Duncan’s quiet leadership or Greg Popovich’s uncanny knack for drawing up just the right play during timeouts? Then again, I guess everyone has different tastes when it comes to art, too. I happen to think René Magritte is the cat’s pajamas. I suspect not everyone feels the same. And that’s okay.

The thing is, many of the oft-stated reasons people give for hating the Spurs just don’t make sense to me. The critics will point to some of San Antonio’s less than aesthetically pleasing playoff match-ups over the years (Finals showdowns against Cleveland and Detroit spring to mind), yet conveniently seem to forget that the Spurs have taken part in their fair share of classic postseason battles as well (How compelling was their ’07 win over Phoenix or, for that matter, their ’06 loss to Dallas?). Besides, is Boston’s style of play any easier on the eyes? How about Detroit’s, Cleveland’s or Utah’s? Just for the record, I thoroughly enjoy watching those teams, too. But if we’re being honest here, there’s no denying the fact that each of those clubs loves to grind it out and get down and dirty as well.

Speaking of dirty, that’s another favorite rallying cry of your typical Spurs’ haters. They love nothing more than ripping San Antonio for its propensity to whine and flop, and for its continued insistence to provide Bruce Bowen with a job. With regard to the first point, show me an NBA team and I’ll show you at least a half dozen guys who never miss an opportunity to cry about the officiating or hit the floor at the first hint of contact. It’s a league-wide problem that the NBA needs to address ASAP. The Spurs are no better or worse than the others; fans merely see them more because of the annual exposure Duncan and company regularly receive due to their deep playoff runs. And as for Bruce Bowen, well, you got me there. Even I can’t put a positive spin on that one. He’s dirty. The evidence is overwhelming. Let’s just move on.

So you might find yourself wondering: Why come out of the closet now after all these years? Well, if you’ve paid really close attention, I’ve been dropping hints for a while now. But the main reason I feel compelled to speak out is that these Spurs find themselves on the brink of elimination today. Lose tonight to New Orleans and their reign as champs is over. But there’s much more to it than that; a loss this evening could potentially signal a permanent end to San Antonio’s decade of dominance.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not writing off the Spurs. Not by a long shot. Not only are they more than capable of picking themselves up off the mat in time to beat New Orleans and grab another title this year, but they’ve also positioned themselves to remain legitimate contenders in the future as well. They already have Bruce Bowen’s heir apparent in Ime Udoka, and they’ll get a much-needed front-court boost next year with the arrival of Brazilian big man Tiago Splitter. Plus, San Antonio’s braintrust—led by Popovich and R.C. Buford—takes a backseat to no one.

But there are plenty of danger signs, too. For one thing, the road through the Western Conference isn’t getting easier anytime soon. The Hornets and Jazz will only get better with Chris Paul and Deron Williams running their respective shows, while Los Angeles and even Portland are potential dynasties in the making. Then there’s the looming specter of LeBron James out east. Whether it’s on behalf of the title-starved people of Cleveland, or best buddy Jay-Z in Brooklyn, it’s only a matter of time before King James starts collecting championship trophies in bunches.

But perhaps more than anything, San Antonio’s window of opportunity hinges upon Tim Duncan’s battle with Father Time. Because for all the brilliance of Popovich, Ginobili and Tony Parker, Duncan is the engine which powers the Spurs’ steady ship. And one can’t help but wonder how many more elite years the 32-year-old future Hall of Famer has left. Common sense says another two or three. But you never know.

So just in case this really is the beginning of the end for the Spurs as we’ve known them, they should hear my feelings while they’re still counted among the living—not at their funeral. So thanks for a decade of great basketball, San Antonio. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It’s been fun, and most of all, unbelievably educational.

I love you guys.

- Jason Friedman

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